December 12, 2022

Leveraging Design Systems for Human-Centered Processes and Patterns: 4 Inspiring Talks from the 2022 Clarity Conference

Exygy designers share favorite quotes from a conference that socializes design systems' ability to shape accessible, collaborative, efficient, and scalable digital products.

Defined as “a set of interconnected patterns and shared practices coherently organized,” design systems are a powerful mechanism for everything from change management to web accessibility. For nearly a decade, however, design systems have existed in a corner of the digital world that doesn’t get enough credit for their potential to shape inclusive, collaborative, efficient, and scalable digital products. Finally: design systems are gaining the respect they deserve in mainstream awareness. 

In November, two of Exygy’s designers attended the 2022 Clarity Conference, which focuses on the latest learnings and best practices within design systems. Here, our designers have compiled the top takeaways from design system practitioners worldwide on investing in a design system that centers accessibility.

For more information on accessibility within design systems, check out the resources listed at the end of this post, including our newly published Accessibility Guide – an easy-to-use resource for anyone who is interested in making their digital product or service more available to their intended users, for beginners and experts alike.

Four Inspiring Design Systems Talks from Clarity 2022

“Your Next Component” by Dan Mall

Dan illustrates the evolution of design systems; from first identifying the need for a  design system in 2014, to being ready to incorporate teams into a design system in 2022.

Notable quotes from Dan Mall:

  • “Try to follow the textbook when you can and make notes in the margin for where things don't work or just aren't right. That's the design system. It's not the textbook. It's the notes in the margin…the design system are the notes and that's the kind of contribution that we should expect and want from people, from teams, not fully packaged components ready to be deployed, but the stories as solutions.”
  • “It's not just a component library. It's how we do things, how we get things done, and how it ties to our mission. A lot of times those stories aren't being told.”
  • “I like using the design system as a catalyst to move an organization forward as opposed to it being a tool that is dragged on from the rest of the organization…kind of a trojan horse for design thinking.”
  • “Design System teams are responsible for making the vision happen. Not making vision — you look elsewhere in the organization for vision — your job is to make it actionable.”

Dan Mall is a creative director, designer, founder, and entrepreneur. Learn more about his evolving career and explore his workbook, “Design Systems in 90 Days” here. Watch a similar version of Dan’s talk at Clarity 2022 here.

“Down With Design Systems Dogma” by Amy Hupe

Amy shares the four pillars of disrupting the “dogma of design systems,” which will help designers stop swimming upstream against the context of their environment.

Outstanding quotes from Amy Hupe:

  • “We tend to frame our definition of design systems around the most visible artifacts and processes that comprise our system, rather than the underlying work of creating organizational change.”
  • “The thing about systems that emerge organically is that they tend to have really strong roots, and when we just lay a new shiny design system on top of those systems. Then those roots have a habit of breaking through. It's why teams often cling to their own product-specific components rather than moving to a centralized design system once. It's why people continue to reference local pattern libraries over a central Design System website. And it's why designers and developers continue to work in silos despite processes and touchpoints and artifacts that are designed to get them to collaborate.”
  • “The practice of cultivating design systems is not about flicking switches. It's about turning dials, and it's about changing things. If we can learn how to effectively change design systems, then we necessarily create design systems that can cope with change.”

Amy Hupe is a content design and design systems consultant. She has worked on private and public design systems, including establishing the GOV.UK design system. Learn more about her work here.

“Auditing Design Systems for Accessibility” by Anna Cook

Anna explains that design systems are uniquely positioned to incorporate accessibility from the beginning. Conducting an audit is a quick way to centralize all of the work that needs to be done and design solutions that solve multiple problems at once. 

Illuminating quotes from Anna Cook:

  • “67% of accessibility issues can originate in design.”
  • “Creating a more accessible design system empowers people and our teams to make accessible products and accessibility is core to usability.”
  • “A lot of accessibility issues are issues that require us to think deeply. They require us to look into what's happening and think about it. It's like saying an algorithm can do anything – we know algorithms can't do everything. So we’ve got to do a manual review, as well.”
  • “You can't just rely on the documentation to support people. You've got to have conversations and you've got to train up because a lot of us haven't been educated by default. So create documents, create training, have conversations, and make sure that your system supports it at the documentation level.”

Anna Cook is a Senior Inclusive Designer at Microsoft. Explore Anna’s many blog posts on accessibility here, including a publication of her talk at Clarity 2022, “Auditing Design Systems for Accessibility.”

“Thinking Big and Small” by Hayley Hughes

Hayley digs into the importance of design system team leaders. Their role goes beyond creating components; they exist to champion quality, manage change, and communicate the value of the system. 

Instructive Quotes from Hayley Hughes:

  • “Leaders describe system teams as shepherds of quality: putting standards in place for how all teams can improve product craft and user experience. These include requirements around things like usability, accessibility, performance, visual design, localization, artificial intelligence and ethical design, and establishing programs and practices that help teams meet those requirements.”
  • “Without leadership design systems can become a force multiplier for scaling harmful decisions.”
  • “...Every layer of the customer experience is impacted by the decisions being made by design system teams. From where we sit, we have this unique vantage point where we can see these relationships between the front and the back stage of the customer experience.”

Hayley Hughes is the Design Director for Nike's design systems. Jump into her blog here and explore topics like “The Caring Economy” and “Considering Touchpoints Across a Service Design.”

Exygy’s Approach to Accessible Design

At Exygy, it’s our mission to ensure that our products and services are truly human-centered and reach as many people as possible — especially those that have been traditionally marginalized or underserved by technology. 

Below are additional resources for folks who are excited to learn more about Exygy’s approach to incorporating accessibility and how to bring these into focus in your design practice:

  1. Explore our Accessibility Guide. From defining accessibility to sharing valuable tools to employ to building inclusive design practices in your organization, this is a stellar resource for anyone getting started with accessibility.
  2. Demystifying Inclusive Design: How to Design More Equitable and Accessible Products. Our Director of Design, Jesse James, and Director of User Experience, Ana Bel Campos, share an ​​introduction to inclusive design, focusing on accessibility and equity.
  3. Designing Accessible Websites for an Inclusive and Equitable Future. This is a recorded discussion around prioritizing accessibility and centering the user experience for our work in redesigning the City of Oakland’s website.
  4. Hire Accessibility Experts. We are proud to partner with LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired on many projects at Exygy; we can’t emphasize enough the importance and value of working with their team to build for accessibility from the beginning – whether that’s through strategic consultation, accessibility reviews, or user-testing with blind and visually impaired individuals.

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Anna Gibbons
Senior Growth Manager
Emilie Jensen
Senior Product Designer

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